Friday, June 27, 2014

On The Road Again...

Yesterday we arrived at San Vicente de La Barquera, a pretty fishing village on the coast of Cantabria, on the Bay of Biscay, and one of favourite places anywhere. The old castle is high on a rock between the two arms of the river,closing and dominating the oldest, walled part of the town. Below is the old port, now with as many small pleasure boats as fishing craft. They come in a great variety of colours, but bright blues, greens and reds are popular, and they are moored not just in the port, but along the seawall, off the bridge and into the estuary. This, and the habit of painting houses in similar colours, those that are'n t made of stone and wood, give a slightly chsotic brilliance to the scene. Behind the port the main street has stone collonades all along it and the buildings are mostly attractive and powerful, looking as though they have always been there and always will be. Apart from the beauty of the village itself, iit has a long wide beach bounded by high green cliffs, good for swimming and surfing, across the estuary, a short walk over the bridge, and many paths along the river and through other villages or into the hills. By walking beyond the beach up and over the headland you can, in a couple of hours of pathswith beautiful views and details of evrything that makes the area woryh seeing, reach Comillas, where Gaudí has a number of curious structures and Alfonso XII had his holiday palace. Not too far away are Santillana del Mar, a village that is as it was in the late middle ages, bright and lively in the sun, and still lived-in, the Caves of Altamira, some if the oldest and best preserved of all cave paintings, and the caves of El Soplao, also fascinating to anyone with imagination and an interest in what we once were. We swam at the beach to refresh the limbs from the journey, then had dinner in the Boga Boga, which is the best place to eat if the reader ever finds himself there. The percebes were caught that morning, the nécora, a kind of crab, was grilled to perfection and the turbot, which had also been happily swimming that same morning before it was suddenly interrupted by a fisherman, was also perfectly done. It seemed a shame to leave this morning, but we had come to walk, to continue where we stopped two years ago, and so we hoiked on our rucksacks and set off. The route I had planned took us over the cliffs, through a handful of small villages, past fields of orange and purple cows, horses, donkeys, sheep and very small goats (you don't tend to think of goats as pretty, but these are, especially the kids). When I say fields, I mean any patch of hillside without too many trees that can be fenced off and where a sufficiently expert driver can handle a tractor without sliding backwards into the sea. This is not the broad, flat, dry landscape of Castille. The village we are in now, in a small and comfortable rural hotel specially built to look as though it has been here forever, is called Pechón and is high on a headland between two of the estuaries which break upthe cliffs every few miles all along this coast. You reach it by walking a couple of miles up a steep road that climbs beside one estuary, and going halfway across the headland. You could also get there by doing something exactly symmetrical from the other side. It is one of the things I like about, pleasing to the mathematical mind. From the balcony we can see the village below and the see, and the showers sweeping in one agter the other from the north. Green places are green for a reason. Where the road crosses the ría, before the climb begins, you can look to the left and see, within a hundred yards, the old road bridge, still used for some reason, the bridge where the narrow-gauge railway crosses, and the little station beside it, and high above it, the new bridge where the motorway crosses and buries itself in a tunnel through the hills. And the coloured boats on the water, of course. A living vignette of human movement and ingenuity through the centuries. It should have been a photo, not just a memory, but it started raining at that moment and I got distracted. Mrs Hickory is always determined to swim, especially on a new beach, whatever the weather and the attendant circumstances. I approve of thishabit in general. This afternoon that meant walking down- down being the significamt word- through a light drizzle to a rocky brach with a dangerous undertow to stroll bravely into the chilly water, do a few strokes back and forth to make it worthwhile, and then trying to get dry in the rain before climbing back up again to the village. This is fun, really it is. The beach is characterful and atmospheric, small and shut in by tough looking rocks, giving you the sense of being alone against the Atlantic and the whole of nature. That's why it's fun. Blogging by phone, apologies for typos etc

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